Wearable Electric Patch May Ease PTSD
Researchers found symptoms decreased in civilians who tried the device; vets are now being tested
By Alan Mozes
THURSDAY, Jan. 28, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Can a small electrical patch that jolts the brain while patients sleep offer significant relief from the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Iraq war veteran and PTSD patient Ron Ramirez thinks the answer is yes.
In May 2006, machine gunner Ramirez was seriously injured when a roadside bomb exploded during a tour of duty.
"About a year later they figured out that I had a brain injury," recalled the 38-year-old Gardena, Calif. resident. And like many veterans of war, that injury was further compounded by a diagnosis of PTSD, a condition typically triggered by exposure to traumatic or threatening situations that provoke extreme fear.
PTSD brought on a significant shift in Ramirez' mood, thoughts and behavior, he said, resulting in a shattered quality of life.
"I had no motivation," he said. "I had constant nightmares, and I couldn't sleep. And I would get very irritated by other people, getting into altercations, sometimes even with other patients. I couldn't even take my two daughters out on my own without an escort."
Both before and after his release from the hospital in 2009, Ramirez was offered all the standard interventions available for PTSD patients, including a "trial-and-error" array of prescription drugs, behavioral therapy, PTSD counseling and anger management sessions.
But the result was little improvement. "It just wasn't really blending very well," he said. "In all honesty, I felt useless."
Enter an experimental electrical brain treatment for PTSD called "trigeminal nerve stimulation" (TNS).
"TNS is a new approach to PTSD," said senior study author Dr. Andrew Leuchter. He is director of the neuromodulation division in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
"The challenge," he said, "is that despite offering the best treatments that we can, most PTSD patients are left, sometimes for decades, with significant residual symptoms, like anxiety, irritability, explosive outbursts and sleep difficulty, not to mention depression."
"But with TNS we approach the brain by thinking of it as a large network," Leuchter said. "And like any electrical network it's sensitive to any energy that gets put into it. So, with TNS we pulse the brain with an external source of energy through the trigeminal nerve," a nerve tasked with transmitting sensations between the face and brain.